Last week I discussed why we are seeing such an alarming rate of pastors and church leaders morally flaming out, burning out, and/or simply dropping out. I said there were two reasons, 1) “hero worship” in our culture and in the church and 2) pastors believing this false narrative.
Last week we dealt with the culture of “hero worship” in our culture and in the church. This week I want to discuss church leaders themselves. They begin to believe what others expect of them. If you didn’t read part 1 of this blog, go back and read last week’s, as it will give more depth of insight into this issue of church leaders.
Let me suggest that some church pastors or celebrities see themselves as smarter, wiser, godlier, and better leaders, and simply communicators of more insight. In other words, as others begin to treat them like heroes, they begin to believe what others say or believe about themselves. They start to think they must be the smartest or best leader in the room…it is called pride.
My observation of the leaders with whom I have seen make this journey is that they didn’t start there. They started as sincere, honest, humble, God-fearing individuals who, through time, slowly began to believe the press of their followers. Let me suggest six stages of pride into which I have seen “successful” Christian celebrities’ subtlety slip. You name your most recent fallen Christian hero and see if this process was in some way at work.
- The first stage of success in ministry is as a person begins to experience the benefits or blessings of laboring out of their A-game. In other words, they are really good in one area of their life, and they use it for God’s honor. As they do, they begin to experience significant fruit in this area. Most Christian celebrities start by sincerely serving God through an area of giftedness. The area of giftedness may be very different from others, and often they are surprised at the impact it has. Yet, they experience attention, accolades, and affirmation of others as they use it.
- The second stage is when they begin to enjoy the benefits or blessings from their ministry impact. As they continue to serve through their A-game, they find they enjoy the attention, accolades, and affirmation that others shower on them. Their surprise turns into a true sense of enjoying what God has done in and through them. I find at this stage, there is still a sense of wonder about God’s provision, but it is waning.
- The third stage is when they subtly begin to encourage the benefits or blessings of their ministering out of their A-game. This is when pride actually begins to manifest itself in their ministry. It is often not visible, and it began growing in the previous stage. However, now, these leaders intentionally position themselves to be in the place to experience the benefits and blessings of their ministry. They only choose events that will foster their brand or increase the benefits. This stage isn’t obvious to the outsider, but those close to the individual notice the difference.
- The fourth stage is when the leaders expect the benefits or blessings of ministering out of their A-game. Not only do they intentionally select venues that encourage these accolades, they actually begin to expect it. So they charge very high rates for their time, justifying it as a way to simplify their calendar. They expect celebrity status in their arrangements for housing, travel, and meals. Again they justify it as a means to reduce the stress in life, but their lifestyle begins to reflect a sense of entitlement. At this stage, those close to the leader often become painfully aware of the problem of pride.
- The fifth stage is when the leader will expel those who called out their pride in the benefits or blessings of ministering out of their A-game. It is during this stage the leader surrounds himself/herself with only people who will agree with the leader. All accountability is gone. You can spot this stage in an influencer’s life when there is high turnover in their organization or people who won’t talk about the life of the leader without the leader being present.
- The sixth and final stage is when God’s call on their life is extinguished. This is when the fall takes place, and their sin or lifestyle becomes evident. Often, we see these Christian celebrities attempt to revive their ministry and manifest the benefits and blessings of using their A-game in ministry. However, it is but a shell of what it once was because it is no longer a call of God.
Think of King David in the Old Testament, and follow his life through these stages.
Gradually through these stages, PRIDE crept imperceptibly into the lives of Church leaders without notice. They didn’t start where they ended. Their expectations changed from experiencing God to experiencing the benefits of a successful ministry. They went from experiencing the blessings of an intimate walk and ministry with Christ to expecting the benefits of a successful ministry.
So the question I ask is, do you want to be successful or faithful? This isn’t a rhetorical question. Thomas Carlyle said: “For every one hundred men who can stand adversity, there is only one who can withstand prosperity.”
Ironically when a couple of Jesus’ disciples wanted to be viewed as more important than the other ten…let’s pick up the narrative in Mark 10:
41When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,* 44and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,* and to give his life as a ransom for many.”Mark 10:41-45
In our culture, we have been programmed to pursue success early in life. Yet, from Jesus’ perspective of success, it only comes from being faithful in the little things for long periods of life. As we serve others through our gifts, only then does God, at times, honor us through building a platform of what others may view as success. Ironically success at this point looks much different than what we may have envisioned earlier in life.
Our definition of success changes as we are consistently faithful to do the little things God desires of us. Over the long term, we begin to value things in life differently, and our priorities change. Only later in life can we really judge what success looks like for ourselves. I wanted desperately to be successful earlier in my life, but I refused to sacrifice faithfulness in the process. In the process, I experienced significant brokenness and failure. It was not a season I would wish on my enemies (Broken or Being tested). But during this decade of tearing down my perception of success and self, I came to see success and my role in it very differently. I honestly confess that I am eternally grateful that I wasn’t successful as I desired in my younger years.